MUL-CHU-THA RODEO and FAIR: IS A FOOT RACE TO A BETTER LIFE ! PEE POSH AND AKIMEL O’ODHAM TRIBES TAG TEAM COMMUNITY PROGRESS WITH GATHERINGS
Historically the Pee Posh and Akimel O’Odham Tribes have lived together in the Gila River Valley, farming and channeling water from the river to provide food, employment and cooling refreshment in one of the hottest places in the United States. Legend tells us the Gila River Indian Community dates back to the Hohokam who farmed Southern Arizona around 300 B.C. Following in their ancestors footsteps the Akimel O’Odham (Pima tribe) and the Pee Posh (Maricopa) now makeup the 372,000 acre reservation that is divided there into seven districts.
The Mul-Chu-Tha Fair, was born over lunch as tribal employees ate together and shared experiences from their youth. One hot day, they reminisced about the fun they enjoyed swimming in the water canals to cool off. The group decided a swimming pool was needed. The pool complex would give kids a place to have fun and to have activities, the community liked the idea of bringing their youth together and folks want to encourage the Pima family so they held a community fair to raise funds and invited the whole valley to come to the Gila River Indian Community in 1962 and celebrate with their people.
In naming the fair and the Tribes wanted a traditional name so “Mul-Chu-Tha,” which means foot races in Pima, was selected. The foot-race historically, Pima runners would hustle from village-to-village or district-to-district and races became a tribal way of sharing entertainment, news and tribal events.Mul-Chu-Tha was chosen as the Sacaton, Arizona annual Community gathering in March, which is preceded by IRA HAYES DAYS in Feburary when Indian color guards from all over the United States attend to parade in honor of one Sacaton favorite son, renown as one of five US servicemen raising the US Battleflag above the Island of Iwo Jima, immortalized by a photograph, that instilled into hearts of the US Public that for the first time since the bombing at Pearl Harbor the US had kicked some ass, and the direction of World War II had turned. Every Feburary, warriors from all all over the US turn up to homage to Ira Hayes. In the Sacaton Square I have watched folks line up to have their picture taken with a life-size statue of Ira, one fellow was wearing the US Medal of Honor around his neck, I meet a white fella from Mesa who comes every year because it is the only place he feels honored for his roll as a warrior. Three X-16’s blast over the crowd at five story level beginning the Saturday morning Parade followed by a B-17, a P-52 Mustang and three bi-planes, very cool. I spoke with Indian color guards from Montana, Wyoming, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, New Mexico, each of the 20 plus Arizona Indian Reservations was represented by bands, color guards, dance groups, ROTC Jr Cadets, vet groups like the Rez Runners Motorcycle Group, as well as, the Patriot Riders, along with vintage Army firepwer and jeeps.
This unique community has a symbionic relationship between the Akimel O’Odham and Maricopa people, both Piman People, like their cousins the Tohono O’Odham, who live southwest of Tucson and into Mexico. In fact, the southern Piman People are said to live as far south of Mexico’s Rio Yaqui below Guaymas, Sonora. Chicken Scratch or Waila Music is a kind of dance music developed by the Tohono O’Odham people says wickipedia.com who says the genre evolved out of acoustic fiddle bands in the Sonoran desert. The term waila comes from Spanish bailar, meaning to dance. Chicken scratch is a traditional Tohono O’odham dance, which involves kicking the heels high in the air, which supposedly bears a resemblance to a chicken scratching. Chicken scratch, however, is at its root, an interpretation of norteño music, which is itself a Mexican adaptation of polka. Many chicken scratch bands play polka songs with a distinctive flourish, and may also play the waltz. “Chicken scratch” dance is the “walking two step or the walking polka with smooth gliding movements and is always performed counterclockwise”.
Since building their Swimming Pool, Senior Citizen’s Center and Headstart School for more than fifty one years these two tribal communities have pulled together like family and carved a life for their themselves and friends along the Gila River in Central Arizona. This year the Mul-Chu-Tha was held March 16-18, 2013 and like all years started with a Junior Rodeo on Friday morning featuring hundreds of future cowboys and cowgirls who struggled with the stock to rise to score.
Traditionally, Miss Gila River Community, is crowned and she and her court go out to other Indian communities and represent the Gila River Indian Community throughout the South West. The Miss Gila River Pageant was established and girls were chose by their districts to compete for the title of Miss Gila River. Since 1962, the Mul-Chu-Tha, has grown to become one of the most highly recognized tribal fairs in Indian Country. Back in the day. tribal members of the community competed in foot races, wood chopping contests, a small carnival and a fashion show featuring clothing made by community seamstresses. For more than 51 years, the Mul-Chu-Tha Fair has been a symbol of Sacaton Community Tribal spirit and dedication to pull together and to create a positive event, with something for everyone to enjoy. So today the All-Indian Rodeo and Pow Wow pull in participants from all over the U.S., in another huge tent, is the Battle of Chicken Scratch Bands. Traditional Indian dancing is featured for all participating tribes or villages who have traditional dances in another separate enclosure, there is a huge carnival midway with food court and another huge tent with seating for visiting and eating, bands play, people dance and folks visit, like family.
Saturday morning started with the parade downtown and featured many prizes for the participants.
The most interesting part of the first fair was that they held the traditional O’Odham game of “toka,” which today could be considered as similiar to lacrosse. Another big draw in those days, were the matachina dancers. Over the decades, the Mul-Chu-Tha Fair has supported and helped to promote unity within the Community. This fair continues to grow since that simple beginning with few who wanted to find a way to make their Community a better place and provide a little fun for everyone. They succeeded!
The Fair continues in celebrating their people, their families, their friends, all together in “Honoring Our Ancestors”.
Top Parade Winners featured Salt River Steppers as the best Dance band, the District Five Jujudom won top honors in Chair Volleyball. The Chicken Scratch Battle of the Bands honored the Papago Warriors. Ira Hayes School won the best float for a school club while second place went to Baboquivari High School Road Warriors and third place went to Indian Oasis Elementary Cheer Squad and Gu Achi Cowgirls took fourth.The Community groups winning in the Parade for floats were first place was the District Five Elderly Center, second place went to the District Four Recreation Committee and third went to the Health Resources Department.
Over the weekend, there was a Men’s Basketball Tournament where the Last Reds took the top bracket followed by the Da Spurs, the Komatke Kings and the Lake Powell Bombers. The Women’s Basketball Tournament honored top honors to Team Arizona, followed by the Hot Shots, Rez Gals and Lady Hoops.
ROBIN LITTLE CLOUD, has her own footrace to run. Little Cloud is the president of COYOTE KETTLE CORN, FOOD and CAKE SALES who along with family, a dozen of her children, grandchildren and five more working from the extended family they create popovers, burritos and cakes featuring their Chocolate, Strawberry, Lemon and Pineapple Upside Down Cakes. With the help of family, Little Cloud has been able to cover all the bases. Letica Garcia is the only outsider helping out with Coyote Kettle, she and Little Cloud’s daughter Sherry Mark met as students at Northern Arizona University. Garcia, is Tohono O’Odham from south of Sells, and helps out for the big events when they need people sweating over hot flames. Like Garcia, the Tohono O’Odham Tribe, also a Piman people and first cousins to the Akimel O’Odham Tribe is usually not far off, and always willing to participate in the Gila River Indian Community events because that’s what family does and the Southern Arizona Tribes for centuries have been partners in carving a better way of life from the Sonoran Desert.
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CLICK to view photos of the Tohono Historic Toka Game see SouthWestPhotoBanks Photos from Sells, Arizona
CLICK HERE to see photos from Sells, Az and the Tohono O’odham 75th Rodeo and Fair 2012
CLICK HERE to view photos from 2011 Tohono Rodeo and Fair..
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SELLS 75TH ALL INDIAN RODEO & FAIR, OLDEST IN THE UNITED STATES & BEST ENTERTAINMENT TICKET!
Celebrating the 75th year of the Tohono O’odham Nation Rodeo & Fair, the longest running All-Indian rodeo in the United States! The Rodeo & Fair is the biggest and most expansive event of the year. Bring the family out to enjoy the full experience there is sure to be something for everyone – rodeo competitions, traditional games, food, crafts, carnival rides, fun run, exhibits and performances. The U.S. longest-running American Indian rodeo has a Junior Rodeo which this year fielded 300 young ones, it has a powwow, carnival, parade, Wailia dances, and food/crafts at the Livestock Complex in Sells, 60 miles west of Tucson. This year’s schedule ran from January 31 through February 3, 2013 at the Eugene P. Tashquinth Sr. Livestock Complex in Sells, Arizona. Named after the long-time voice of Tribal Rodeo’s, the Chu Chui resident (1929-2006) Eugene Tashquinth spent his days bringing order to chaos, heading up most of the events at the livestock area, so when they built the new one, they named it after Eugene Tashquinth. Equally proud is the Tohono O’odham Hedricks family whose matriarch Silas’s name blesses the Rodeo pavilion where he excelled in the arena, his grandson Chad Hedrick put the first score (6.3) on the clock with his bareback ride. Sells is a place of tradition and for the ten thousand residents of the third largest Indian reservation in the United States the annual rodeo and fair is a time of gathering, folks begin gathering before noon and the festivities go way into the night with the Wailia ending around l a.m.. The Rodeo and Pow Wow bring in native American competitors from all over the South West, particularly from Arizona tribes, like the Navajo, Hopi, San Carlos Apache, White Mountain Apache Tribe and their Tohono cousins: the Pima and Maricopa Tribes. Every year, is an old-home-town visit, with folks coming together to visit, catch-up, see who big all the cousins have gotten and to get new pictures of the kids. The mid-way is a beacon to all who love carnivals, greasy food, fast rides, regge music from Bob Marley, and tee shirts featuring heavy music idols and black goth signs. Visitors pay $8 for a wristband allowing all day access, for those over 55 years-of-age, the senior charge is $2. The annual Toka Tournament brings together the Tohono O’odham “Dream Teams”, like “Sun-Running-Women” who battle it out on a football sized field fighting over a wooden puck laced with leather and flung up-field with long sticks pulled from the ribs of the saguaro cactus. The start is much like the game lacrosse-another Indian game, it begins almost like a rugby scrum–and then off down field, very little is out of bound. These women celebrate this age old tradition all afternoon long with teams chasing each other up and down the playing field, the ebb and flow, the eventual goal and high-fives all around, losers too. The Pow Wow begins with the traditional Gourd Dance and breaks down into male, female, fancy, Plains categories featuring the finest in Pow Wow and Drum traditions. Just off the mid-way, the crowd not to photograph are the Yaqui Deer dancers nor can you record them with smartphones. The Yaqui Band features a combination of home-made instruments which accompany the dancers, one wears the head of a small deer atop the head, the main dancers each wore a mask to fill out the cast for their dance.
Earlier the Santa Rosa traditional dancers displayed their dance abilities, wearing their eye-catching shell-leg chaps, made from the shell carried from the Sea of Cortez by their ancestors who later traded the shell to Hohokam in the Salt-Gila River area for their cotton. The Tohono’s Hohokam ancestors valued the shell as a sign of rank, wealth, and much of it was fashioned into jewelry, like bracelets, necklaces, and leggings with shell leg tinklers for dancers The Tohono ancestors had a prehistoric salt trail across the vast waterless Sonoran Desert, across what is today’s US-MEXICO Border and into the blackened landscape of the Sierra de Pinacate lavafields, before crossing the enormous star sand dunes of the Grande Deserto for ten miles before reaching the Gulf of California where they harvested the precious salt and processed the shell, carrying home only what they needed to make jewelry to trade. Traditions have lasted thousands of years in the lands west of Tucson, they exist today and they will thrive tomorrow. The Tohono Tribe are gracious hosts and they welcome young and old, Indian or not as visitors to their Rodeo and Fair. It surprises me how few Tucsonans take advantage and visit the annual Tohono gathering, it surprises me more how few Tucson businesses sponsor, advertise or even acknowledge the tribe and its good work and its people of sterling, ageless character who have been our faithful neighbor for centuries.
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